Big Ten women’s basketball has been around since 1982. Over the span of 41 years, only 11 Black women have been hired as head coaches.
The only two Black HCs who have worked at two conference schools are C. Vivian Stringer (Iowa and Rutgers) and Coquese Washington (Penn State and Rutgers). Ironically, both women—Stringer, who is now retired, and Washington—are one and two among the winningest Black coaches in the conference. The former finished with 446 wins, and Washington notched her 100th Big Ten victory earlier this month with a six-point win at Minnesota on Jan. 12.
“I didn’t know about that,” admitted Washington to the MSR after the road win. “It just speaks to the number of great players [that] I’ve had the wonderful privilege of coaching over the years.”
Reaching a personal milestone along with recording Rutgers’ 1,000th program win at The Barn was doubly rewarding, continued the veteran coach. “That means a ton. And to do it here, because this is such a hard place to play,” she pointed out.
“It’s tough to win on the road. It’s so hard to play here, so hard [to] shoot here,” she said, due to the raised floor at Williams Arena.
Washington said that she is committed to continuing the standard previously set at Rutgers by the likes of Theresa Grentz and Stringer, both of whom are now Hall of Famers, and others. “They set a standard of excellence that’s in our care now,” said the coach. “To be a part of that, to add our little piece of excellence to that history, that’s cool.”
This season, Rutgers also boasts the Big Ten’s only all-Black coaching staff—Washington in her first year as head coach, and assistants Nikki McCray-Penson, Tasha Pointer and John Hampton. McCray-Penson has 15 years of college coaching experience, including head coaching stints at Mississippi State and Old Dominion.
Pointer brings 18 total years of coaching experience, including eight seasons on the Scarlet Knights sidelines (2007-15). Hampton is the former head coach at Clarkson University and spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s, including the last three as assistant head coach.
“Obviously, I think we know how important it is for us to…represent who we are…when people see us doing our jobs the right way, being the best that we can be at what we do,” said Hampton after the Rutgers win over the Gophers. “We want to create more opportunities for others. And the only way you do that is by doing the groundwork and being appreciative for the people who’ve come before you and have done so much work.”
Asked how important it is for Williams Arena fans, especially Black girls, to not only see her non-HBCU staff in action, but also her majority Black female roster play at a PWI, Washington responded, “We want to do well because we know there are young eyes looking at us.”
Washington, who played college ball at Notre Dame and then six seasons in the WNBA, including with the 2000 Houston Comets championship club, remembers what it was like as a youngster growing up. “I’m looking out on the floor and [wondering] who do I want to be like,” she said. “And for me, at that time, I had to look at men’s basketball and I had to look at the NBA.
“[We want to be] a program that young people can look at how we compete and see themselves,” continued Washington, “that young people and moms and dads can look at and say, ‘My kid can do that because I see it with Rutgers.’”